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Indonesian women demand justice for slain activist

25 years after union leader Marsinah was raped and murdered for demanding higher wages, masterminds are allegedly still free

Indonesian women demand justice for slain activist

Dozens of women hold banners demanding justice for the rape and murder 25 years ago of female activist Marsinah, during a rally in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta on May 8. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews.com)

Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta
Indonesia

May 10, 2018

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Dozens of women staged a rally in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta on May 8 demanding the government to hold human rights trials over the rape and murder a quarter of a century ago of a 24-year-old trade union leader.

The body of slain activist Marsinah, who only went by one name, was found in a remote hut in East Java's Nganjuk district on May 8, 2013, but her case remains unsolved and harks back to a dark chapter in the country's past.

Marsinah had been missing for three days after leading a protest against a watch factory she worked for in Sidoarjo district, demanding a wage increase for her colleagues.

She had also lodged an official complaint with the district military command over the arrest of 13 of her fellow workers who had allegedly been physically and psychologically pressured into signing letters of resignation.

"This case was more than just a crime. That's what we cannot accept. It was a gross violation of human rights," Mutiara Ika Pratiwi, coordinator of the rally, told ucanews.com.

Pratiwi, who also serves as national secretary of the women's rights group Perempuan Mahardika, said the case should not be handled under the Criminal Code as the statute of limitations for murder is 20 years.

"Everyone has their basic human rights, such as the right to life, freedom of expression and freedom of association," she said.

"In this case, Marsinah's right to life was violated. She was kidnapped, tortured and murdered."

Pratiwi has also called on the National Commission on Human Rights, known as Komnas HAM, to formally recommend that a human rights trial be launched to bring peace and justice to the family of the deceased.

"Komnas HAM should conduct an investigation," she said. "We believe that sufficient evidence can be found as long as there is a commitment to resolve the case."

During the "New Order" of former president Suharto, who ruled the country for 31 years until 1998, workers who demanded their rights and went on strikes were usually dealt with by the military.

An autopsy on Marsinah later found that severe physical trauma had led to her death.

In 1994, nine workers at the factory were convicted of her murder. However, they were released 12 months later after claiming they confessed under police duress.

The alleged perpetrators from the district military command were never charged or brought to trial.

"The intellectual actors behind the case remain unknown. However, the government could probably find out who they are," said Alghiffary Aqsa, director of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute.

"What we need to find out is whether this case represents a serious human rights violation. But this would require on the strong political will [and support] of the government," he added.

Mohammad Choirul Anam from Komnas HAM claims the commission is already probing the 25-year-old case.

"It's definitely a violation of human rights. This is something few would deny. The key is determining the severity of that violation," he said.

Speaking with reporters, Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko said incumbent President Joko Widodo is unable to intervene in the legal process.

He added the case would be difficult to resolve as so much time has elapsed.

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